Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spiritual Survival

I began reading a book this weekend called Spiritual Survival Handbook for Cross-Cultural Workers written by Dr. Robert S. Miller.  It's really good.  It's not a very long book, but there is a lot of wisdom in these pages.  I don't think that just cross-cultural workers would benefit from this book, however, I think that anyone who desires a closer walk with God would be blessed and encouraged by what Dr. Miller has to share.

From the table of contents, the chapter titles are as follows:
  1. Know Your God
  2. Know Yourself
  3. Know Your Enemy
  4. Know the Terrain
  5. Know Your Boundaries
  6. Know How to Lead
  7. Know Your Mission
Epilogue:  Remember the Joy of the Lord

So far, I've read into chapter two, but am finding myself reading too fast and I want to slow down to really soak in what I'm learning.  I've been thinking about some things that I read in chapter 1, Know Your God.  

"So much of what I've learned about survival in ministry is based on the following statement, "Inward before outward; secret before public."  You must win the battle within your own person if you are to survive in ministry."  

Let the river flow into your heart

"There is a river that proceeds from fellowship with the Spirit, a river that waters your thirsty life.  The flow of this river is dependent upon your heart's posture before the Lord.  A subtle shift will cause the flow to pause or even stop.  Without that life-giving river, your heart will become a desert."

"There are times when we attempt to minister apart from this flow.  Such a condition is so prevalent that we can become accustomed to it and think it is normal.  After all, no one is perfect; we're all human.  But the sobering truth is that a missionary that is evangelizing, discipling or church planting apart from abiding in the Spirit may as well be playing the role of a missionary in a Hollywood film.  We cannot give what we do not have.  Without the living water, there is no living, vital ministry."

"How long does it take for a heart to become an arid desert?  Not years and not even months.  Guard your heart daily."

I've been pondering these words all is so easy for my heart to become that desert and I've even lived there at times.  But now that I have experienced more and more what it means to have that flow of living water in my heart, I don't want to go back to the desert.  

This topic reminded me of a study I did recently in Jeremiah 17.  Most of us are familiar with verses 7 and 8...

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
   whose confidence is in him. 

They will be like a tree planted by the water 
   that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
   its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
   and never fails to bear fruit.

But I hadn't really paid much attention to the previous contrasting verses of 5 and 6 until recently...

This is what the LORD says:
   Cursed is the one who trusts in man, 
   who draws strength from mere flesh 
   and whose heart turns away from the LORD. 

That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; 

   they will not see prosperity when it comes. 
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, 
   in a salt land where no one lives.

The context of these verses is Judah's sin (Jer. 17:1).  Jeremiah 2:13 says,

My people have committed two sins: 

They have forsaken me, 
   the spring of living water, 
and have dug their own cisterns, 
   broken cisterns that cannot hold water. 

The specifics of Judah's and Israel's sin was idolatry and trusting in other nations, pagan nations, to protect them from enemies instead of trusting in God to defend them.  The Israelites even asked Egypt of all countries for help.  Egypt, the very country that had enslaved the Israelites for generations!  Seriously?!    

Hadn't God shown Himself to be trustworthy to His people in the past?  Hadn't He shown them time after time that He could deal with anything man could bring against the Israelites?  Scriptures are full of stories about God miraculously intervening on behalf of His people and  they still turned back to worshiping idols and trusting in man.  

I find it fascinating to see how God describes this sin...forsaking the spring of living water and digging cisterns that could not possibly satisfy their thirst.  

It's easy to sit back and judge the Israelites for abandoning God, but isn't that just what I do?  Trusting in my own strength to get through a tough day or maybe many tough days...thinking that I am strong enough to handle what life brings my way.  Finding other ways to solve my problems without taking them to God first. Letting days go by without really spending time seeking God...letting my heart become dry and dusty, like a bush living in a wasteland.  Trying to give to others what I do not have for myself...failing in the secret places while pretending to succeed in public.  

It's shameful how easy it is for me to forsake my God.

But there is grace...grace that will never fail to renew my heart and bring refreshing rivers of living water back to my soul.  

So these are great reminders about where my spiritual priority should be..."The river of fellowship with your Lord and Savior is the key to your life and your ministry; everything else takes second place....I must spend time with Him.  Not just five or ten minutes.  I must linger with Him.  I need the living water.  I need to know Him and to be known by Him.  If I forgo this priority-one appointment, my heart will become a desert and I will die."

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